Television is a constantly evolving medium. The Golden Age that led into Peak TV has been slowly morphing into the Age of Reboots, Revivals, and Remakes. It coincides with the similar Age of Adaptations, creating what can at times feel like a world without originality as studios attempt to combat the overwhelming amount of content available with well-known titles, familiar faces, and built-in audiences. But even if all this has happened before, there is at least some merit to revisiting shows and/or their ideas.
When done well, revivals and reboots have the ability to add something to an existing program, either by providing closure where there wasn’t any, or by updating and exploring different stories to find previously unrealized depths. Whether it’s a reboot that acknowledges the original’s mistakes and attempts to rectify them, or writers taking a previously flimsy series and adding emotional weight to it, there exists a possibility in which revisiting a show can improve it and deepen the cultural conversation around it.
But not every attempt to revisit the past is worthwhile. Some attempts fall flat because they rehash the same tired jokes and add nothing new (see: Spectrum’s Mad About You). Meanwhile, other attempts have just been overwhelmingly bad (Heroes: Reborn). Every once in a while, though, a reboot or revival comes along that surprises us by truly being worth watching. Below are the best of the bunch.
Note: In curating this list, we attempted to steer clear of shows that were just new adaptations of literary works or films. This is why you won’t find worthwhile shows like The Baby-Sitters Club or Nikita, though we recommend them.
Original Series: ABC, 1978-79
New Series: Sci-Fi Channel, 2003 (miniseries), 2004-09 (series)
Originally a kitschy 1970s sci-fi series created by Glen A. Larson, Battlestar Galactica became a completely new series in the hands of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, which means it’s more of a remake or reimagining than a simple reboot. The new show—which started out as a miniseries before being upgraded to an ongoing drama—is a compelling space opera following the last human survivors of a nuclear attack orchestrated by the Cylons, man-made creations that over time evolved from machines to sentient, near-perfect human replicas. Featuring complex discussions on the topics of science, religion, politics, and what it means to be human, the show depicts the emotionally taxing search for a new home in the face of an enemy humans created. In doing so, Battlestar Galactica recontextualizes its source material to become not just a thought-provoking drama reflecting the paranoia and experience of a post-9/11 existence, but one of the best examples of a reboot to date.
One Day at a Time
Original Series: CBS, 1975-84
New Series: Netflix, 2017-19; Pop TV, 2020
Watch on Netflix
*Season 4 not currently available
Rebooting a classic Norman Lear sitcom like One Day at a Time takes a lot of nerve, which is probably why Lear is the only person crazy enough to want to do it. But the legendary writer and producer struck gold for a second time with this timely reboot, which in the hands of executive producers Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce updates the original series for the modern day while retaining the elements that made it worthwhile. The heartwarming dramedy moves the action from the Midwest to the culturally rich world of Los Angeles, and follows the lives of a multigenerational Cuban-American family. Justina Machado anchors the cast as a veteran living with PTSD and a single mother raising her two children (Isabella Gomez and Marcel Ruiz) while caring for/baby-sitting her spirited mother (EGOT winner and scene-stealer Rita Moreno). Like the original show, the reboot skillfully tackles numerous important social and cultural issues like immigration, racism, addiction, mental illness, and gender identity, and it does so with such care that the series never feels preachy or like an after-school special.
Original Series: BBC One, 1963-89
New Series: BBC One/BBC America, 2005-Present
The longest-running sci-fi series in TV history, Doctor Who is a bit of a unicorn because it has a built-in ability to reboot itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to keep the show going. After 26 seasons, the show signed off in 1989 and an attempt to revive it in the ‘90s failed. However, in 2005, Russell T Davies successfully relaunched the show with Christopher Eccleston as the time-traveling and regenerating alien, known as the Doctor, and Billie Piper portraying his human companion, Rose Tyler. Since then the series has reset itself a few more times, with David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and Jodie Whittaker—the first woman to ever play the Doctor—all taking turns piloting the TARDIS. Along the way the show went from being a British classic to a global phenomenon beloved by audiences of all ages as the series proved its greatest strength isn’t its ability to reinvent itself, but its capacity to find the human stories in a show that regularly features aliens while transporting viewers through time and space. As Whittaker prepares to depart the show and a new Doctor takes over, Davies is set to return for the first time since stepping away in 2009. While not every series is literally built to reboot, it’s clear that Doctor Who would not have lasted as long as it has if there wasn’t also a need for the stories it’s telling.
Original Series: Disney Channel, 1987-90
New Series: Disney XD/Disney Channel, 2017-20
When considering shows ripe for rebooting, the animated kids show DuckTales probably doesn’t rank high on the list. But that’s what makes the beloved Disney XD show from Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones so uniquely wonderful. The stakes are low, but the show—which features the wild and crazy adventures of the wealthy Scrooge McDuck and his three crazy grandnephews—still manages to exceed expectations at every turn, beginning with a stellar voice cast. Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, and Bobby Moynihan bring to life the troublesome Huey, Dewey, and Louie, while David Tennant breaks out his natural Scottish accent with his take on the classic Disney character Scrooge. The show follows a more recent trend in animated children’s series in which characters enjoy deeper and more emotionally rich storylines, which in turn makes the series accessible for kids while still being enjoyable for adults. And when you’re rebooting something that adults today loved as a kid, there’s no better recipe for success.
Twin Peaks: The Return
Original Series: ABC, 1990-91
New Series: Showtime, 2017
Twin Peaks: The Return is not a classic revival. Despite the appearance of familiar faces, this isn’t a return to the quirky, surreal, and campy whodunnit of the early ‘90s. Instead, it’s a mind-bending, 18-part experiment in both form and storytelling that defies any and all attempts to describe it or classify it. Is it television? Is it a film? Is it something else entirely? More than two decades after we were introduced to the town of Twin Peaks and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he investigated the death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), series co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost returned with a new breed of revival, one that pushes the boundaries of what we thought we knew by throwing every preconceived notion out the window. If the best revivals honor the past while creating something new, Twin Peaks: The Return burns the beloved original to the ground in order to create something beautiful, strange, and completely unforgettable from the ashes. That obviously won’t work for every show, but it does here.
Saved by the Bell
Original Series: NBC, 1989-93
New Series: Peacock, 2021-Present
What could have been a cringe-inducing attempt to monopolize on existing IP, Peacock’s Saved by the Bell revival-slash-reboot is a surprisingly charming and self-aware comedy that recontextualizes the original show by not-so-subtly highlighting its flaws. Hailing from Tracey Wigfield, the show follows a new generation of students attending Bayside High, but while it largely features a young cast, it’s not a true reboot. Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani Thiessen reprise their roles as Zack and Kelly, now the governor and first lady of California, and when the former’s ineptitude results in the closure of many public schools throughout the state, students from lower income brackets find themselves attending well-funded school districts. This setup injects Bayside with a much-needed dose of reality. But Gosselaar and Thiessen aren’t the only familiar faces in the cast. Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez reprise their roles as Jessie Spano and A.C. Slater, who both work for the school, while Lark Voorhies’ Lisa Turtle is a fashion designer who pops by. With Berkley and Lopez taking active roles in the narrative, Saved by the Bell appeals to both old and new viewers, which is one of the biggest signs of a successful revival.
Original Series: UPN, 2004-2006; The CW 2006-07
New Series: Hulu, 2019
I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. Prior to the finale that undermined its heroine’s trauma and turned off many longtime fans, the Veronica Mars revival is actually a welcome return to a fully realized universe that ticks the nostalgia box even as it evolves its central characters and the overarching narrative of the city of Neptune. Present are the show’s trademark snark and wit, the best father-daughter relationship on TV, and Veronica’s rekindled romance with Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), whose existence proves people can overcome trauma if they’re willing to put in the work. It’s unfortunate that creator Rob Thomas refused to apply these lessons to the show’s eponymous private eye. But while it’s difficult to separate what happens in the finale (spoilers in link) from what came before it, the truth is there’s plenty of merit to the bulk of the revival and its continued dedication to investigating the class division in Neptune while exploring Veronica’s emotional stagnation. After wondering what happened to everyone’s favorite teenage detective, the revival gives us some much-needed answers—even if they aren’t always what we want to see. So you can think of Veronica Mars as a cautionary tale of what not to do when reviving a series while also still appreciating the good along the way.
Original Series: HBO, 2005
New Series: HBO, 2014
In some cases, revivals give shows that didn’t get the love they deserved the first time around a second chance. This is the case with HBO’s underrated comedy The Comeback, which stars Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish, a B-list actress who chronicles her return to TV in a new reality series also called The Comeback. A satirical look at the reality genre that highlights the narcissism of the entertainment business, the show is framed as found footage. While it was canceled before many were able to see it for the brilliant show it was, HBO revived the series for a second season set 10 years after the first, updating it to revolve around Valerie pitching a pilot and using that footage to eventually create a documentary. With jokes that are sharper than ever and an audience that has finally caught up to the show enough to understand it, Season 2 gives the meta series the ending it needs and never got the first time around.
Original Series: HGTV, 2013-2018
New Series: Magnolia Network, 2021-Present
Does this list really include a non-scripted show? Yes, it does. When Chip and Joanna Gaines launched the preview of Magnolia Network on Discovery+ early in 2021, they revived the show that made them famous and launched their empire: HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Now known as Fixer Upper: Welcome Home, the home renovation series is the same show it always was, complete with Chip’s familiar shenanigans and Joanna’s effortless but always evolving style. The only differences are that the married duo are calling all the shots and the homes and buildings being renovated have already been purchased, which allows episodes to focus more on the process of rebuilding and telling more personal stories. This also means that episodes about passion projects accompany the series’ more traditional renovations. The magic of the original series is still present—shiplap still plays a major role—there’s just a little more heart and personal connection to everything that plays out on screen this time ‘round.
Original Series: Sky One, 2010; Cinemax 2011-2015
New Series: Cinemax, 2017-2020
The military-themed Strike Back actually breaks the overarching rule of this list—it was originally based on a book—but the show was also revived and rebooted over the years, so I’m making an exception. Originally a Sky One drama starring Andrew Lincoln and Richard Armitage, the show was softly rebooted when Cinemax came aboard in Season 2 as a co-producer. Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton took over as elite soldiers working for a covert operation known as Section 20, and for four seasons the duo took on would-be terrorists in feature film-worthy shootouts and fight sequences that prove there is room for high-stakes action on TV. But the show also balances its adrenaline-fueled story with emotionally resonant moments that never shy away from the human cost of war and the toll it takes on those who survive. Strike Back rode off into the sunset in 2015, but when Cinemax returned to its action roots two years later, it revived the series with a new cast, elevating it from a two-handed bromance to an ensemble drama by introducing more women and developing its supporting characters to be more than expendable targets. Strike Back has always known what it is, and that allowed it to become better than it had any right to be. Now that it’s signed off (again), television is a little less exciting without it.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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